The BWF World Badminton Championships at Guangzhou last week was an anti-climax for Mumbai’s world number 24,Ajay Jayaram. After setting the stage alight by beating Hong Kong’s world number 12,Wing Ki Wong 22-20,17-21,21-15,the 25-year-old crashed out of the tournament after an unexpected 21-9,21-17 defeat to Spaniard,Pablo Abian,ranked a distant 105. Upon returning back to India,Ajay now sets his attention to the inaugural season of the Indian Badminton League. Excerpts:
You played a good game against Wing Ki Wong,ranked 12th in the world. Did the victory come as a surprise to you? What were you initial thoughts after the match?
Going into this tournament,there was some apprehension as I had just recovered from a bout of viral fever. Although I did my best to recover as fast as possible I decided to go in and give my best and not expect too much. It worked well for me. I fought hard in that match and was able to pull it out after slogging for more than an hour. Messed up a big lead in the second set,but clawed back well in the third. It was an important victory for me as not only was he higher ranked but I also remained mentally tough through the match.
You were a clear favourite to win your match against Pablo Abian,and a few would have predicted a loss. What factors would you say contributed to the loss?
Yes. It was a very disappointing result,no doubt. Pablo put on a very good performance. But I felt quite sluggish in general. In the first match the shuttles were quite slow and in the next round they were extremely fast. Unfortunately,I found it hard to control it. I tried hard to get back,but after the bad start,the pressure only kept mounting.
Since you were a favourite to win that match,was there an added pressure and expectancy for you to win?
There definitely was pressure. But then I wouldn’t say that was the sole reason for the loss. There have been many situations where there has been more pressure.
The national coach,Pullela Gopichand stated that you would have won “on any other day.” How accurate do you think this statement is?
I guess it’s probably true. I definitely played sub-par that day. And considering the general level I had been playing until then I should have managed to pull through.
PV Sindhu became the first Indian to win a medal in the women’s singles event at the World Championships,what was the team’s reaction like towards her success?
Unfortunately,I wasn’t there to witness her stupendous feat. I saw her match against Wang Yihan and that win was incredible. It paved her way to the semifinals. But the response she has been getting after that has been amazing and she deserves every bit of it. Definitely a huge boost for Indian badminton.
What were the conditions like in Guangzhou?
The tournament in general was well-organised. The first day was a little hard as we didn’t have a practice slot initially and we struggled with the food. But as we settled in,things got much better. The staff was quite friendly and helpful.
Since this wasnt your first World Championships,did the experience of the previous tournament help you get over some nerves this time around?
Yes. I had played well in the last edition of the World Championships in 2011. So I was definitely able to take some positives from that. But more importantly the last two-three tournaments had gone reasonably well for me and I think that confidence was helpful.
Your next tournament will be the inaugural Indian Badminton League. How well do you think the IBL will promote the sport in India?
I think IBL has come at the right time for Indian badminton. There are many players who are doing very well in the international circuit currently and IBL will help all of us get the much needed recognition. People will come forward to support their city which will make them much more aware of the game and players. Financially,of course it will be a big motivation for players. I think IBL will give badminton in India the right push.
You team up with the likes of Saina Nehwal and Taufik Hidayat,to name a few,in the Hyderabad Hotshots team. Do you think the team is well prepared to win the tournament?
I think all the teams in general are well balanced. We have strong women’s singles of course . Even the men’s doubles and singles are well balanced. I think we have good chance of progressing ahead in the tournament. It will be exciting and I’m definitely looking forward to it.
How does the team adjust to the multinational setting with foreigners?
It will be different,but definitely good. We have known each other for a long time since we have all been playing for years. But now we have a chance to play together,and interact as teammates. It’s a good opportunity for us all to share ideas and get better at the game.
Given that you are from Mumbai,would you have preferred to be playing for the Mumbai Masters?
n I love Mumbai and it would have probably been nice to be part of Mumbai Masters,but then Hyderabad is the badminton hub of India. So I’m equally excited about being part of the Hyderabad Hotshots.
About your career,why badminton? What would you say was your primary inspiration to pick up the sport? Since when have you been playing?
I have been playing badminton for the past 17 years. To be honest it was just chance that I took up badminton. My dad was keen on me taking up a sport and badminton coaching was available close to my house. That’s the only reason why I chose. I’m certainly glad I did.
After the IBL season,what will have you planned on competing in?
My first two tournaments after IBL will be the China Masters and Japan Super Series in September.